Tianjin Updates

TJU researchers develop 3D-printed pipe-climbing robot


Updated: 2021-01-21

A research team led by Professor Zuo Siyang and Doctor Liu Jianbin from Tianjin University (TJU) has developed a one-piece, 3D-printed pipe-climbing robot that is made of soft, sequenced bending mechanisms.

The robot stretches and contracts like an inchworm and can scale and monitor pipes at industrial facilities in real-time. It can even pass 90-degree bends in pipes.

Pipe-climbing robots can replace humans in real-time monitoring of industrial pipes, leak inspection and other tasks. However, most of these robots are either inner or outer pipe-climbing devices, not both. What’s more, most of them are designed for specific applications and have an intricate design, limiting their adaptability to various conditions.

To overcome these limitations, the researchers from TJU built their robot using a soft, one-piece bending mechanism made up of small strains of soft materials. The device can achieve an extensive range of movement.

The robot has grippers at either end, along with three intake pipes that allow it to be controlled and apply pressure on-demand.

“To make the robot climb, we only need to pressurize and depressurize its grippers alternately, and its motion is under our direct control,” said Liu.

Liu added that the development team used CAD software to create the module-designed device to make it easily upgradable. “We can add modules or adjust the diameter of the device’s grippers at will.”

The creatively designed new robot has been tested and can climb on both the inside and outside of pipes and rotate in a longitudinal direction.

It is also highly adaptable to pipes with various diameters, radii of curvature and inclinations, and it boasts a sizeable static bearing ability of 1,000 grams – almost 80 times its weight.

In the future, the researchers intend to integrate sensors into their device, allowing it to become an autonomous pipe maintenance solution.


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